The dystopian drama “Perfect Blue” is not just touched by the digital world — the play and its production are defined by it. It comes from two companies, Philadelphia’s Tiny Dynamite and Britain’s Pursued by a Bear, with one actor here and another in London, both on stage at the same time and connected through Skype on high-speed Internet. When I saw the play Sunday at 7 p.m., it was midnight in London. No matter: on stage, the action takes place in a ruined future world.
“Perfect Blue” is a fascinating look, just under an hour, at a universe altered by climate change. The food chain’s been decimated and nations drop from planes genetically engineered animals to help crops grow, or to destroy crops and starve other nations in a brutal eco-war.
Like, wow. That’s a big hunk of horror for a short piece of theater. Yet in G. S. Watson’s play, there’s more to contend with, and it makes the play work on a human scale: two scientists, a husband in Europe and his wife, at the forefront of science in the United States, are separated because of her position. She’s employed here with iGenis, a company that develops new versions of animals to restore some semblance of a food chain. That’s the only hope for the world — and so is iGenis, making the company ripe for planetary domination.
What we have is “1984: The Corporate Takeover Edition,” and like George Orwell’s celebrated vision of society’s demise, there’s a personal entanglement to make its disturbing world more resonant. The two scientists, separated by an ocean and 3,500-plus miles, are in a Skype fight over their marriage and the future of their teenage son, who remains with his dad in a Europe where people are starving and war is raging.
It’s taut, tense and gripping, under David O’Connor’s direction and with Tiny Dynamite’s leader Emma Gibson as the wife (on the stage of the theater at Christ Church Neighborhood House) and Harry Smith as the husband (inside a house in London’s Dalston neighborhood). Both actors are excellent as they attempt to continue a relationship long-distance while the world around them is in crisis. Master stage designer Jorge Cousineau did the set, lighting, sound and projections from Philadelphia and several others manage the transmissions and technical aspects here and in London.
The sound is clear, and so is the image from London on a large screen before us. The show has its weaknesses — there’s more than a little talk about contact lenses and the coloring in the wife’s eyes, private-relationship banter I found incomprehensible. And it take a few minutes to get used to Gibson’s British accent (she’s a Philadelphian from the UK) and Smith’s somewhat heavier accent coming over the Internet. But it’s the overwhelming impact of “Perfect Blue” that counts; the idea that we could genetically alter just about everything is, in equal parts, exciting and terrifying. Plus, Watson gives his play a human side so easy to buy into, the genetic stuff seems very real.
I wondered, after it was over, whether the two-continent production could just as easily work with a completely recorded overseas part to which Gibson responds here in Philadelphia. (Before “Perfect Blue,” another version of the show was done for London audiences with Skype from Philadelphia.) The answer, I think, is yes. But oddly, that would have been gimmicky while this real-time production is not. The “Perfect Blue” we see is fully live theater. And in a new way.
—“Perfect Blue,” a co-production of Tiny Dynamite and Pursued by a Bear, runs through July 23 at Christ Church Neighborhood House, 20 N. American St., just north of Market Street and to the west of the church. tinydynamite.org.